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Apple’s next announcement

August 30, 2010

So (some of) the rumours were true: Apple is making another product announcement next Wednesday, September 1st. All over the blogosphere, pundits are making further predictions on what exactly Steve Jobs and team will share with us. Not wanting to be left out of the fun, I thought I’d jot down some of my thoughts on the matter.

First things first, I’d love to see an announcement about iOS 4 for the iPad. The iPad has been lagging behind its iPhone cousin (brother? sister?) since launch and Apple pointed to a software update for the device “in the Fall”. Nice and vague, that.

What would this bring? All of the familiar iOS4 goodness we’ve so far seen on the iPhone, including folders for apps, background processes, customisation and much more. It’s relatively minor, but I’m really looking forward to being able to better organise my apps within folders. I’ve finally reached that point where I have to scroll through too many screens to find the app I’m looking for. Folders on my iPhone has been great in this regard and it just makes it quicker and easier to access what you’re looking for.

iOS4 also included Facetime for the iPhone, but as the iPad doesn’t have a front-facing camera – or any sort of camera, actually – this doesn’t appear to be relevant. For now… I don’t think we’ll see the debut of a new iPad model with camera(s) next week, but Apple would definitely be missing a trick not to include this in any model update in 2011.

So if we don’t see Facetime for the iPad next week, will Apple go further and include extra software features just for the iPad? What would be useful in a software update? I’d like to see some minor tweaks to the iBooks app – I’ve alluded to these in an earlier post.  A more elegant way of getting documents on and off the device. The present method, via iTunes, is slightly cumbersome, not to mention counter-intuitive (“To get my document onto the iPad, I need to open the *music* app on my Mac?!”)

This leads me to my next hope – a new version of iTunes. That isn’t called iTunes. All of Apple’s devices synchronise content via iTunes: iPods, iPhones and iPads. This made sense when all you could transfer was music to your iPod. But now iTunes is the nexus for transferring calendar data, contacts, books, TV shows, movies, applications, documents and more. Isn’t it time Apple replaced this with a specialist app, separate from iTunes, whose sole purpose is to synchronise your devices? Remember iSync?

And while I’m on the topic, could we see the introduction of wireless synching? It would be great to have my iPhone and iPad wirelessly sync with my Mac when they’re in the vicinity (i.e. my desk) rather than messing around with various USB cables.

This could leave iTunes to be a leaner, more efficient media application – for music, podcasts, TV shows and Movies. iMedia anyone?

Based on what we’ve learnt about the event so far (nothing, aside from pictures of the event invite) it looks to be a music-themed announcement. I think a re-launch of iTunes would fit right in, don’t you?

New iPad ad from Apple…

August 22, 2010

Gone fishin’

August 11, 2010
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I think if nothing else, this blog has demonstrated that cats and iPads go together very well. Watch as this cat tries to catch some fish…

GTD on the iPad

August 9, 2010

For those of you not steeped in the intricacies of the GTD craze, it stands for “Gettings Things Done”. It’s basically an approach to help you be more productive and less forgetful and it is set out in all its glory in the original book by David Allen. One of the core elements of any GTD system is the task list and the iPad represents an excellent opportunity to move beyond paper and pencil lists and take advantage of its technology.

The iPad represents an excellent GTD tool for a number of reasons.

1. It’s extremely portable: The notion of a constantly available tool for recording to-dos is a core element of the GTD methodology. Personally, I always have my iPad within reach, at work and at home. The iPad is small enough and light enough for most people to bring it with them, unlike many bulky day-planners or Filofaxes.

2. Inbuilt calendar and note-taking apps: The iPad comes with its own calendar (iCal) and notes application. Both of these could be combined to facilitate planning and keeping notes of your projects and “next actions

3. Internet connectivity: The iPad can connect to online GTD systems via wifi or 3G, meaning you can sync with online services (for examples, see below) and ensure you always have the most up to date version of your to-do list(s) with you and also update this on the go.

4. The App Store: If the iCal/Notes combination isn’t for you, just search for GTD in the iTunes Apps store to find alternatives. You’ll quickly see that there is a plethora of GTD apps and solutions now available. These definitely vary in terms of quality and utility, but volume means it’s more than likely you’ll find an app that works for your needs.

5. Location aware: Many GTD apps allow you to tag your notes and/or actions with location, something that you can really take advantage of with the location-aware iPad. Some services allow you to be reminded of to-dos depending on where you are at the time (which is great for must-have groceries when you’re near the shops!).

6. Great battery life: The iPad’s battery will always be beaten by simple pen and paper (!!) but I regularly get over 10 hours’ use from the device, so I never have to worry that my critical lists or notes will disappear just when I need them most. The comfort factor is really important, and combined with the size and weight, helped convince me that iPad trumps paper in the GTD stakes.

As I noted above, there are now many different GTD solutions available for the iPad – I won’t attempt to list them all. But a few of the options really stand out. They differ in terms of price, flexibility and ease of use:

Remember the Milk: RTM is pretty cheap and quite powerful for managing multiple lists of to-dos. It can synch over-the-air and keep your iPhone and iPad in sync. You can also access your lists via any browser, as long as you’re connected to the net. However, for now, you can’t access it offline on the Mac without additional plugins and the use of Firefox. I’ve used RTM in the past and stopped using it for this reason. Try it – you may find it’s all you need.

OmniFocus: OmniFocus is a bit like a Swiss Army knife – it can do almost everything you might need it to, but at the same time can be more than some people actually need. Helpfully, it syncs over the air with a variety of solutions, so you can also have your to-do lists on your iPhone. However, in anyone’s book, this is a very expensive solution. In addition to paying for the desktop solution, the iPhone app comes in at $19.99 (£11.99 in the UK store), while the iPad app is an eye-watering $39.99 (£23.99 in the UK store). Aside from the steep price, the OmniFocus functionality may be overkill for most people. I’d recommend it for those that have tried other, more simple, solutions and found them wanting.

Things: Things is the GTD solution from Cultured Code. Like other apps in this category, Things comes in flavours for the Mac desktop, the iPhone and the iPad. Unfortunately, this means multiple purchases and Things is far from cheap. The iPad app costs $19.99 (£11.99 in the UK store), while the iPhone app is a much more reasonable £5.99. You’ll also need the desktop solution, which is priced at £44.95 direct from Cultured Code. While you can simply sync your lists and projects between your devices, there is (as yet) no over-the-air (OTA) solution like there is with Remember the Milk. Instead, you use your wifi network to sync your desktop with your iPhone/iPad directly, as opposed to via the cloud. While this is a deal-breaker for some – in that you can’t access your data via a browser – it’s not a problem for me. Things really does have a beautiful interface and is incredibly simple to use without being simplistic or limited. My only additional gripe would be its apparent glacial pace of development. Check out the Cultured Code support forums for a flavour of this.

My personal favourite

At the moment, I use a combination of Things and Evernote to help me stay on top of organisation. This means I have Things and Evernote installed on my  Macbook Pro, my iPhone and my iPad. Things handles multiple device synchronising smartly and quickly, so you don’t have to worry about which device has the most up-to-date information on it. Actions can be organised in projects, tagged and prioritised. I use Evernote as my electronic brain, as it contains notes I might need for everything from my doctoral research, day job as a psychologist, DVDs I want to buy and ideas for blog posts. For me, these two applications are all I need to stay on top of Getting Things Done.

Your mileage, as they say, may vary.

Shock reaction to iPad launch…

July 31, 2010

If you thought you were excited to hear about the iPad when Steve Jobs announced it, check out the reaction from this little guy:

eBooks on the iPad

July 21, 2010

Reading ebooks was one of the main reasons I bought my iPad. I know I’m probably in a minority of iPad owners in that I use it as an ereader for over 50% of the time. I’ve had a series of Sony ereaders in the past and enjoyed them – for the one-trick ponies they were. As soon as I saw the iPad could serve as a multi-function ereader, I was smitten.

So after a couple of months of non-stop ereading, I thought it was time to record my thoughts on what is great – and not so great – about reading books on the iPad.

Firstly, getting ebooks onto the device is pretty straightforward. If you have DRM-free epub files, you can load them onto your iPad via iTunes. A top tip for getting your ebooks in shape for upload to the iPad is to run them through Calibre. This is an excellent ebook manager – think iTunes for books – that allows you to convert the format of files and edit the metadata (e.g. cover image, category etc). This can easily transform a standard text file (.txt) into a well crafted and iPad-friendly epub file. Best of all? Calibre is completely free. I can’t recommend it highly enough and you can download it from here.

Alternatively, you can download ebooks directly onto the device from within the iBooks software itself. Apple has made thousands and thousands of free public domain titles available. You can also buy titles from within this store, though at first blush the selection seems limited – and in some cases, incredibly over-priced. I’m hoping prices will come down once ereading hits the mainstream in a big way and the sales volumes warrant it.

I have to admit I’ve been suckered into buying several books from within the store, when was “just browsing”. Not through any fault of the software or Apple, but because I have no willpower. There are now several more impulse purchases on my iPad than I’d like. So… buying books is easy. Perhaps too easy. On the other hand, you can get free samples from all books in the store, which is a fantastic way of trying before you buy. A bit like lurking in a real world bookshop, leafing through books that look interesting.

I loaded up my entire ebook collection on the iPad in one go. Admittedly, this took some time, but there were over 1500 files to transfer, so I wasn’t surprised. They all appeared as expected and looked wonderful on the iPad’s screen. But this is where I encountered the first issue. The iPad organises books on a virtual shelf in a virtual bookcase. You can scroll up and down this bookcase to find your book, but once you’ve got more than a few dozen books… you need to do a lot of scrolling.

I’ve compared the iPad to the Sony eReader (PRS-300) and it comes out tops on a number of levels. Firstly, the screen is wonderful to read from and so, so clear. I was initially worried that the screen would be a problem in direct sunlight, but I took it to the park the first weekend I had it and was pleasantly surprised. As long as you’re reading black text on a white page, it’s just fine.

The iBooks software kicks Sony’s desktop book manager into the long grass – in fact, most people I know who have Sony ereaders use Calibre, as described above. The screen is also backlit, making it easier to read in darker environments.

It’s also a bigger, heavier device, which in some ways works against it. You can whip the Sony ereader out of your coat pocket and read with one hand when on bus/train/whatever. No matter what anyone else might say, I don’t think you can hold the iPad with one hand for very long. But can the Sony download your email, hold your schedule and let you watch movies? Bulk is the price you pay for a multi-functional device.

Finally, I’ve got a list of what I would call basic improvements that Apple could include with the next update to iBooks:

  • How about reserving the top shelf for the books that you’re reading at the moment? Or just the books where you’ve saved a bookmark?
  • A dropdown list of your book categories would make it much easier to find books, rather than having to scroll and scroll
  • Can’t you liven up the free books? Some nice covers on each would make it easy to distinguish one book from another.

Nothing major there and I anticipate Apple will introduce iterative improvements over the next few upgrades. In summary, the iPad is a near-perfect ereader. And as I’ve been told by more than one person lately, it will have to be pried from my cold dead hands…

Travelling with the iPad

June 14, 2010
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I’m in Spain at the moment, taking a well-earned rest from the daily grind. For the first time in years, I’ve come away from London without my Macbook Pro. I’m probably in the minority of people who bring a laptop on holiday, but to be honest, I normally feel naked without it! On holiday, I use it to catch up on news, watch tv via iTunes and download podcasts to transfer onto my iPhone. It’s also great for keeping in touch with people back home and for backing up travel photos and even posting them on Facebook.

This month, I thought I’d experiment with the iPad and leave the Macbook Pro at home. So I assembled a travel kit, including my bluetooth keyboard and new Belkin case for the iPad, as well as a charging cable.

Straight off, it was a different experience. For a start, as the iPad is still so new, I got lots of interested glances from other passengers at City Airport before I even left London. But it’s also much lighter and the instant-on aspect of the iPad means it’s something I turn to in a whim, a lot like you might use your iPhone. I used the free wifi at the airport to check some email and waste some time on Twitter. While on the flight, I was able to read Wired magazine via their fantastic app and watch a couple of episodes of family guy in iTunes. Cue lots of pointing and whispering from other passengers. (I hope this wears off once more people have an iPad…)

Since I’ve been here, I’ve been able to carry the iPad around in a small messenger bag over my shoulder and haven’t noticed the additional weight at all. It’s been great to be able to whip it out when sitting at a cafe and read a little of my latest iBook purchase or play some Scrabble. In fact, aside from iBooks, Scrabble has been getting more action on the iPad than any other app this week. I’ve never been a big board games fanatic, but Scrabble is simply amazing. And the turn-by-turn play option means you can play with another person and avoid accusations of being anti-social! My other half and I have spent literally hours in the sun battling each other on Scrabble, much to the bemusement of waiters in the local bars.

It hasn’t been all plane sailing however. The great weather here has played havoc with the iPad’s screen. While it’s fine for reading ebooks, any app with predominantly dark colours is really very difficult to read in direct sunlight. And in Mallorca in June, there’s a lot of direct sunlight! The sunlight also emphasises the many fingerprints and smudges on the screen.

In summary though, I’d have to say I’m very happy with the iPad as a travelling companion and don’t miss the Macbook one bit. I’ve been able to download new podcasts directly to my iPhone via wifi and haven’t needed to upload any pictures. I may in the future, so can see myself getting the adaptor kit from Apple to enable this. So while the iPad isn’t a permanent laptop replacement, it’s all I’m going to be bring with me on holidays from now on.